Canadian rodeo fun for cowboys and city slickers RIDING HIGH CALGARY STAMPEDE 1995

June 11, 1995|By Raphael Sugarman | Raphael Sugarman,New York Daily News

Calling yourself "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth" is no trivial claim, especially at a time when scores of fancy theme parks are springing up everywhere.

But how many of these amusement parks have real cowboys and Indians, bucking broncos and Brahma bulls, pig dashes and chuck-wagon races -- not to mention one of the largest parades in the world?

For more than 80 years, the Calgary Exhibition & Stampede, held in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, has been labeled the greatest outdoor show on earth -- and for good reason.

The 10-day event, held each year in July, is widely considered to be the most prestigious rodeo in North America, with more than $500,000 in prize money. There is bareback, bull and saddle-bronc riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, wild-horse racing, steer riding for little cowpokes and ladies barrel racing.

Still, you may be asking, What does a city slicker know about the rodeo?

Fear not, Stampede rodeo events are not only easy to understand, but are surprisingly addictive. So is Calgary's famous Western hospitality, fueled by a sea of cowboy hats, country bands, performing Indian tribes and greetings of "Howdy" and "Ee-e-e-ehaaww" on every street corner.

"The Calgary Exhibition & Stampede is not just another rodeo," says Danny Copithorne, president of the event. "It's pancake breakfasts, friendly smiles, clean air, mountains and streams, hospitality and open arms."

More than a million people attend the Stampede every year, and thousands of them are from the United States -- would-be cowboys from Florida, Montana, New York and California who arrive in suits and neckties but depart in rope-ties and dusters.

The Stampede, in fact, was founded by a U.S. citizen, a trick roper named Guy Weadick, who upon seeing the city's beauty, vowed to make "Buffalo Bill's Wild West Extravaganza look like a sideshow."

A lot has changed since Weadick's first show in 1912.

Today's Calgary Exhibition & Stampede not only attracts nearly 500 cowboys to its rodeo, but also top entertainment to its stages.

Dolly Parton and Billy Ray Cyrus are just two of the country-music stars who have appeared at past events.

Dusk at the Stampede brings chuck-wagon races, with teams of cowboys in covered wagons bolting between barrels and around a racetrack.

Some have said the breathtaking and often dangerous event is the closest thing we'll ever experience to ancient Roman chariot races.

When the wagons are done, the Stampede goes "Broadway" each night, with a grandstand show of singers, dancers, musicians and fireworks.

What else is outstanding about a vacation at the Stampede?

How about a lumberjack show, a huge midway, an Indian village with members of the Blackfoot, Blood, Peigan, Sarcee and Stony tribes? Also, competitions for the world's best blacksmith, a miniature-horse show and, of course, the not-to-be-missed swine exhibit.

In addition to the regular rodeo and grandstand events, the '95 show will feature the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a huge marching-band competition and the largest show of Western art in Canada.

One of the most appealing parts of the Stampede is its location. In the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, Calgary offers visitors its own magnificent scenery, in an area with other spectacular attractions.

In fact, the saying goes: "If Calgary is cowboy country, then Banff is God's country."

Less than 100 miles from the Stampede grounds, Banff features a national park with natural hot springs, prehistoric glaciers, mountain ranges and evergreen forests.

Home to 7,600 people -- and thousands more during the summer and ski seasons, Banff has more than 100 restaurants, 200 specialty shops and several museums.

Nothing is more perfect after a few days at a dusty rodeo than bathing in the town's famous hot springs, or relaxing in one of its grand hotels.

While in the Rockies, also check out nearby Lake Louise and Canmore's Nordic center, which was the site of the 1988 Winter Olympics.

IF YOU GO . . .

Getting there: Air Canada offers daily flights to Calgary, (800) 776-3000; or call your local travel agent. Banff is about 90 miles north of Calgary and is best reached by car.

When to go: This year's Stampede will run from July 7 to July 16.

Where to stay: The Palliser, one of Calgary's most regal hotels, is on the Stampede Parade route. The Radisson Plaza Hotel, also along the parade route, houses the Silver Slipper Saloon, a honky-tonk with country music and a huge dance floor. The Westin is not far from the exhibition grounds. If you don't mind a daily trip into the city, try the Chateau Airport at the Calgary International Airport.

In Banff, the Rimrock Resort Hotel has wonderful views of the mountains. The hotel is also near a natural hot springs, walking trails and a mountain gondola lift.

MA For information on the Calgary Stampede, call (800) 661-1260.

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